Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
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The Hopeful’s Gambit

What P. chidambaram needs to watch is the gap in his budgets between projections and ground realities.

The political fortunes of a finance minister usually mirror that of his government. But in P. Chidamba­r­am’s case, the picture is further complicated by the speculation that he could be an acceptable—and youn­ger—alternative to PM Manmohan Singh. The speculation is itself a compliment of sorts to the prime minister. When Dr Singh took charge at the helm, conventional wisdom had it that this was an emergency measure nec­essitated by the peculiar circumstances that Sonia Gan­dhi found herself in. Over the years, though, Manmohan has created a niche for himself as India’s first bureauc­rat-prime minister. He has taken responsibility for pol­icy-making and implementation, while staying well out of the political space. If Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to enter government is a sign that he would follow in his mother’s footsteps rather than his father’s, he may well need his own bureaucrat-prime minister. And Chidambaram would certainly be a candidate.

As a career politician Chidambaram can, of course, never be the political lightweight that Manmohan has been. But he comes close. He struggles to hold on to his Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu. And in the history of that state’s Dravidian dominated politics, he would be happy to rise above the footnotes. His personal manner too is not entirely conducive to building political alliances, especially in north India. This should ensure that even the backroom approach to political dominance won’t exactly be kept ajar for him. He thus meets the essential condition of not challenging the Nehru-Gandhi family.

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